It was just after midnight Monday, March 8, 1954, when
the Kingston Grade School burned to the ground.
The last surviving teacher who remembers that fire, Alice
Paulson, spoke about it Monday at the Oak Crest DeKalb Area Retirement
Center, with five former students, all in their 70s, present.
She told about the phone call early that morning from Genoa-Kingston
schools Superintendent Clarence Louderback, explaining there
would be no school that day.
However, most of the teachers and other staff hurried to
the scene, where they found their school destroyed, along with
all the books, desks, lesson plans, grading books, school records
and every piece of equipment used by the 150 students, six teachers
and Principal Carl Tucker.
Alice Paulson (seated) is pictured with former Kingston
Grade School students Rene Sturtz (from left), Karen (Korth)
Paulson, Sharon (Magee) Garcia, Bill Magee and Barb (Magee) Sebby.
(Barry Schrader photo)
The cause of the blaze was never determined, but fire officials
said it started at the front of the school and was suspicious
in nature. Kingston had about 300 residents in 1954, and they
pulled together to find places to continue the school year.
Alice said the classes were scattered around the community.
Two grades moved into the second floor of the Masonic Hall, three
more into the basement and first floor of the Kingston Methodist
Church and four other grades into the White Oak Grange Hall basement
and first floor.
Her pupils were fourth-graders and half of the fifth grade.
They were crowded so closely in the church room that when one
student had to go to the bathroom or anywhere else, every student
in that row had to get up so one could pass by. The bathroom
was a chemical toilet in the corner of the room with walls that
didnt reach the ceiling. The strong odor of chemicals sometimes
forced her to take her class outside.
In good weather they went across Route 72, over a double
set of railroad tracks, the Kishwaukee River bridge and into
Kingston Park, where they put picnic tables together so they
could all hear their teachers.
There was little money in the school district budget, so
no new blackboards, library books or even workbooks were acquired
for the rest of that year. Paulson recalled duplicating workbooks
and other materials provided by DeKalb County Superintendent
of Schools Marjorie B. Leinauer and making do with donated pencils,
crayons and paper.
Her husband, Ed, was co-owner of Genoa Offset, and his
printing business provided rolls of paper for art projects. There
was no longer a cafeteria, so children who lived in town were
encouraged to go home for lunch and the farm kids brought lunches.
It took only 11 months from the time of the fire to rebuild
the grade school on the same land near where the old building
Alice emphasized that despite the hardships and difficulty
of teaching that spring, the pupils standardized test scores
never dropped. She added that the experience made them all pull
together, and that the children became stronger, more resilient
and supportive of each other. There were no school counselors
in those days, and few fire regulations and occupancy limits,
something she said would never be tolerated today. The six former
students gathered around her to share experiences and reminisce
after the talk.
By the way, Alice wrote a book about the fire in 2005 titled
Fire! Kingston School Destroyed. It is full of class
photos, news clippings and documents related to the school, its
rebuilding, and reminiscences from several of the students. It
is a good read.